A piece of the Rock

I enjoy walking down to Riverbottom Park, just off the Shelbyville square on the banks of the Duck River. Most days, I’ll get out of the office and walk from the Times-Gazette to the square, then from the square down to Riverbottom Park, then back up to the square, stopping by First UMC on my way back to say hello to whoever’s in the office. On weekends, sometimes I will walk from my apartment up to Riverbottom Park and back.

I didn’t want to let my walking go by the wayside while I’m on temporary assignment here in Lewisburg. I’ve been walking every day, going in different directions from the square each day, exploring a little of the area near the square. This paid off on the very first day; I saw the marquee at First UMC Lewisburg advertising an appearance by H.K. Derryberry, whom I’d met only a week or two earlier and got a story out of it.

But it wasn’t until yesterday, after going in pretty much every other direction, that I stumbled across the Rock Creek Park greenway. I walked part of it yesterday and walked more of it today. I took about a 40-minute walk today and still didn’t cover all of it. What a treasure. I wish Shelbyville had a walking trail this long and this nice. I know that there was an original plan for a greenway that would run from the square to Never Rest Park, but they haven’t been able to get all of the necessary property or develop it. Well-maintained, well-designed, and beautiful, with benches and trash cans and a pedestrian bridge over the creek, and so on. Plenty of geese (not surprising, since there’s one of those coin-operated geese food vending machines near the pedestrian bridge). It’s convenient to the square.

While I’m over here, I’ll enjoy having that greenway for my daily walk. I just wish there was someplace to eat on the square. Shelbyville has four restaurants on or close to the square: Pope’s Cafe, Coffee Break, Bocelli’s and new arrival P&B’s Kitchen. Lewisburg has zero, although I found a Mexican restaurant just a little farther out.

Mom’s birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.

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This is one of the last photos I have of her, with my sister Elecia at a party following my niece Jacey’s high school graduation in May 2010. She died of pancreatic cancer in August of that year. I am so sorry Mom won’t be around for Jacey’s wedding next month. I think of her often, as we all do – I’ll see something that she would have liked, and be instantly reminded of her.

In 2013 and 2014, I happened by pure chance to be working on Relay For Life stuff on Mom’s birthday, and this year I only missed it by a day (in either direction – I had Bark For Life yesterday, and Relay For Life committee meetings tomorrow night). Raising money for the American Cancer Society won’t bring my mother back, but maybe it will give a few more people some more days, months or years with their own mothers and fathers and spouses and children.

Value the time you have with the people you love. You never, ever know which meeting will be your last.

A tale of two cities

It has been a long day — I spent the first half of it working for one newspaper, and the second half of it working for another. I will be filling in at the T-G’s sister paper, the Marshall County Tribune, for a few weeks while they’re short-staffed. I came in to the T-G as usual this morning and tried to get some loose ends tied up, then I went and worked at the Trib this afternoon. I rushed back to Shelbyville just in time (a few minutes late, actually, but they were still serving) for dinner at church.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing in reverse — working at the Trib in the morning, then coming back through Shelbyville in the afternoon to take care of a feature interview I’d already scheduled before I knew about my temporary duties. From that point forward, I’ll be at the Trib most of the time, except on Monday mornings, when I’ll stop by the T-G and do my regular weekly hour at Learning Way Elementary. I’ll also cover a few after-hours assignments for the T-G.

I helped out at the Trib a couple of years ago, but that was just occasional assignments for a few weeks. This time, I’ll be putting in regular office hours. It’s a big change – I’ll have been at the T-G for 30 years this coming July, and so it’s a challenge to drop into a different newsroom and a community where I don’t know very many people.

I’m tired. I will sleep well tonight.

Getting my jim key on

4-BJK-AEDCLast August, during the Celebration, Kate Canady saw me on the grounds and came up to me to ask me if I would speak about Beautiful Jim Key at a meeting of the AEDC Women’s Club.

Kate’s husband, Brent, is a retired Navy captain; they’ve settled back in his home town of Shelbyville since his retirement, and Kate has gotten active in the AEDC club, which is associated with Arnold Engineering Development Complex, an Air Force (and Navy) research facility over in Coffee and Franklin counties. Kate said she wanted a to share a good Bedford County-related program with her fellow club members. It had just been announced that Morgan Freeman has agreed to play William Key in a movie adaptation of the story, and Kate thought this would make the program all the more interesting to her friends.

My first reaction was to turn her down – I’m no expert, just a newspaper reporter who’s happened to write a few stories about Beautiful Jim Key, quoting heavily from the real expert on the topic, author Mim Eichler Rivas. The ideal would be if they could get Mim to speak to them – but Mim lives in sunny Southern California, where she’s a successful author and her husband Victor is a busy actor.

I tried to think of someone else I could refer to Kate to do a BJK program and couldn’t come up with anyone. I told her I’d do it, but I was going to clearly present myself as an interested amateur, not an expert.

Kate got back to me later to tell me I’d been scheduled as the program for April. I’ll be speaking this coming Tuesday.

I’ve been making some notes on my program today. I’ve been re-reading Mim’s book, of course. I also ordered a copy of one version of Albert Rogers’ often-revised promotional booklet about the horse, and scanned the state library and archives’ web site for photos I could download. I meant to try to get someone to show me William Key’s grave at Willow Mount Cemetery, so I could take a photo of it, but I never got the chance. I do have photos of the marker at Beautiful Jim Key’s gravesite south of town.

If you’ve never heard the story, Beautiful Jim Key was perhaps the most famous horse in America at the turn of the 20th Century. William Key, a former slave who made a fortune selling patent medicine, taught the horse (an Arabian-Hambletonian) to spell, do math problems, respond to audience questions, and so on. Skeptics assumed (and still do today) that this was trickery, that somehow William Key was doing the spelling, secretly indicating to the horse which letter tile to pick up at a particular time. But a team of Harvard professors could find no evidence of such subterfuge. If it was a trick, it was a good one. Mim does not believe it was a trick.

A promoter named Albert Rogers – equal parts showman and idealist — hooked up with William Key and his horse and promoted them in appearances around the country. (The movie is still trying to nail down its financing, but Clive Owen has agreed to play Albert Rogers opposite Morgan Freeman.) The appearances stressed William Key’s gentle training methods (today we would call him a “horse whisperer”) and often raised money to launch or support some sort of local humane association in that city. Millions of children and adults joined the “Jim Key Band of Mercy,” a fan club, by signing a pledge to be kind to animals.

The horse’s successes were bracketed by two great World’s Fair-type events. Jim Key performed for President William McKinley at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, and then was seen by millions at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, the fair memorialized in the song “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Mim opens the book with the story of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of then-president Teddy Roosevelt, seeing the horse at the fair in St. Louis. William Key asked Jim to spell Alice’s name, and the horse mistakenly – but prophetically – appended the last name of her escort and future husband, Nicholas Longworth.

I enjoy talking about this often-overlooked piece of Bedford County history. I hope I can do it justice on Tuesday.

T-shirt question

OK, all of the laundry experts out there ….

As referenced in a video blog post a week or two ago, the Relay For Life organizing committee (as well as all of our team captains) received their T-shirts much earlier than usual this year. In the past, those T-shirts were given out right before Relay. They would be worn for the first time at Relay and would then become a fond souvenir for repeat wearings after the fact.

This year, however, we’ve gotten our T-shirts several months early, and are being encouraged to wear them at preliminary events – like today’s Celebrity Waiter Luncheon – and in other situations where we might want to promote Relay.

WP_20150317_001In a happy coincidence, our committee shirts are green, so several of us, including me, wore them to today’s luncheon, which happened to fall on Saint Patrick’s Day.

This photo was taken in advance. I promise I wasn’t quite this sweaty during the actual luncheon.

Anyway, the point is, I wore the shirt today – and will probably wear it again, for things like Bark For Life or the Times-Gazette’s Community-Wide yard Sale.

But I still want it to look nice on June 5, when the actual Relay gets here.

I hand-washed the shirt in cold water tonight. Was that a good idea, or overkill? What else can I do to keep the shirt in good shape between now and June?

DR. SEUSS, EAT MOR CHIKIN, AND HOW TO BE YOUR OWN PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER

Today was national Read Across America day, although various schools may celebrate the whole week (or next week, if they have some sort of testing or other conflict). My experience as a guest reader at a couple of different elementary schools, reading Dr. Seuss to the kids, was one of the things that prompted me to sign up for the “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” program, for which I’ve been a volunteer more than two years now.

I’ve told you this several times before, but when I first signed up for “Raise Your Hand,” I think one of those “Read Across America” appearances was sort of what I had envisioned. That wasn’t what it turned out to be at all, of course. In Regan Aymett’s first grade class at Learning Way Elementary, I am usually leading a small group of kids through some sort of simple game or worksheet, rotating small groups a few different times during the hour.

I love it. I miss it when I don’t get to be there – such as the past two weeks. Two weeks ago was Presidents’ Day, and last week the schools were out due to weather. So it had been three weeks since I’d been with the kids.

I arrived this morning at my usual time, but that was also the same time as one of those once-a-year Read Across America volunteers. So I sat there and waited as he read “Green Eggs and Ham” to the kids. I took a photo with my smartphone so that I could get it into the newspaper. To be completely honest, I was a little jealous, although my personal preference would have been “Fox In Socks.” Does that make me a bad person?

After he left, we went into our normal routine. I ended up working with three different groups of kids during what was left of our normal time. We were doing a couple of worksheets. On one worksheet, the kids had to figure out which letter was silent in various words and mark through it. The groups were progressively better as the hour went along – the first group really needed me to walk them through it, and even then they didn’t always get it. The last group could have done it by themselves while I was down the hall.

The last group included one kid who’s become one of my favorites this year – which is not to say he’s not frustrating some of the time. He immediately started by asking if the boy next to him could copy off his paper – “He’s a new student,” explained my friend. I explained that, no, each person had to do their own worksheet. (The newcomer did just fine without copying off anyone.) My friend did fine, too, but he insisted on announcing each of his answers as he wrote them on the worksheet. I kept trying to tell him not to do that, but it went in one ear and out the other. And, no, he wasn’t feeding answers to the new student, who was working at his own pace. I think he was just serving as his own play-by-play announcer.

I really enjoy my weekly hour working with the kids, but it leaves me with a lot of deep admiration for the talented, dedicated, highly-trained and often-unappreciated professionals who work with these kids day in and day out.

Oh, the other thing that happened this morning was that when I first checked in at the office, the secretary told me that Regan and her kids might still be in the gym. What was going on in the gym, you might ask? A visit from the Chik-fil-A cow. Sadly for me, the first graders were actually on their way back to the classroom by the time I caught up with them, and so I missed seeing the cow.

As I think about it tonight, I wonder – is it really a good idea to expose first graders to signs reading “EAT MOR CHIKIN”? I mean, learning to spell is hard enough as it is….

Let the band play on

For nearly half my life – for the vast majority of my adult life – I have been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s annual concert in Shelbyville. I covered the first two or three concerts, which were sponsored by Berol Corp., but then when First American Bank took over as sponsor, in maybe 1991 or 1992, the late Scott McDonald formed a steering committee and asked me to join it. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and the past few years I’ve been co-chair alongside with the committee’s long-time chair, Dawn Holley.

Last year, for the first time, the concert didn’t have a primary sponsor, and I was the one who stood up in front of everyone, welcomed them, and introduced Vinay Parameswaran, the symphony’s associate conductor, making his first appearance in Shelbyville. I’m told he was wonderful.

I say “I’m told” because, right after giving those words of welcome, I had to leave Calsonic Arena. It was Election Night, and I had to be at the county courthouse to collect election results as they came in. I’d spent months working with Dawn and others on the concert, and then I had to miss it. I sprinted up the center aisle, through the waiting crowd, and out the door of the arena before the first note of music was played.

You want to know the worst part of that?

For about six months, I thought I had missed the very last such concert. Without going into details, we thought that the pieces weren’t going to come together for a concert this year. No one had said so officially, but Dawn and I had taken it as a foregone conclusion, and I’d told a few friends not to expect there to be a symphony concert in Shelbyville in 2015.

But now, it looks like we’ve gotten a reprieve. We found out a few weeks ago that the concert has been scheduled, and we had a teleconference today to do some planning for it. The concert will be Tuesday, May 5.

There are still some details that need to be worked out, and we still really need a primary sponsor if there’s going to be any long-term future for the concert. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that I didn’t miss the very last one.

A day at the beach

SandwritingThis morning, for my weekly “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer hour in Regan Aymett‘s class at Learning Way Elementary, we wrote in the sand. Well, the kids wrote in the sand, anyway. Regan had little plastic tubs at my station, with blue sand in the bottom of each, and I read out spelling words that the kids had to draw with their finger in the sand.
The kids loved it — although, as one might expect, there was sand everywhere by the time I’d gone through the activity with three or four different groups. Whenever the kids weren’t writing — for example, some children had finished but others hadn’t — the ones not actually writing were shaking their little tubs or piling up the sand or just rubbing their hands through it.
I was struck by the difference in achievement level among the four groups. Some already knew how to spell “high,” others had to be walked through much-simpler words.
The sand thing was fun, though, for me and the kids.

kickoff!

The past few years, we’ve had our kickoff event for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Bedford County in the fall. And it’s been poorly attended. We were going to have one this past fall, but a combination of factors forced us to postpone it until Jan. 31 – but that seems to have been a good thing. The number of RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page is already quite a bit higher than our normal attendance, and I’m sure there are people planning on coming who haven’t bothered to click the button.

But there’s still room for you! Whether or not you’re familiar with Relay, this is a great chance to stop by and have a good time. We will have a hot chocolate bar, and cookies, and kid-friendly games and activities. It will be more of a party than a presentation, although we will, of course, have information available about Relay.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event. Ours will be held June 5-6 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center. Relay For Life is not a run or a race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. It’s as much a festival as it is a walk. Each team typically operates some sort of concession – food, souvenirs, children’s games or activities or what have you. There are also ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. We encourage the general public, not just team members, to attend.

Teams raise money with their Relay-night concessions, but they also raise money in advance, with group fund-raisers and individual fund-raising by members.

Relay teams can be workplace-based, church-based, neighborhood-based or just a circle of friends. Sometimes, a Relay team is formed in tribute to a cancer patient or in memory of someone we’ve lost to cancer.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to http://relayforlife.org/bedfordtn for more information. Otherwise, go to http://relayforlife.org and search for the Relay event in your area.

And please think about joining us, 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center.

blue like jazz

I am going to be teaching a new Sunday School class starting later this month at First United Methodist Church. This is being referred to as a young adult class, since I think some of the people who aren’t currently in classes fit into that demographic, but it’s actually open to anyone who wants to attend. We aren’t actively trying to poach anyone from existing classes.

Rev. Lanita Monroe announced from the pulpit a few weeks back that she was looking for people for several different Sunday School classes, including a young adult class. I’d been feeling burned out, for a variety of reasons, with Sunday School, and I’d been missing it more and more often lately. I now think that might have been a God thing. But we’ll see.

I’m re-reading Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” which I’d used with a previous, now-defunct class and which I’ve chosen to start out this new  class. It’s one of my favorite books, and one I hope will lend itself to some good discussion. But that will depend on who we actually have in the class.

We’ll also need to find someone I can rely on to take over the class on occasion, since I’ll still get called on as a lay speaker from time to time.

“Blue Like Jazz” isn’t like most other Christian books you’ve read before. (It has a cuss word!) It’s not really a narrative, even though it was turned into a movie (more about that in a second). But there are some sort of storylines to it, involving some time Miller, who was already a college graduate, spent auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which is considered one of the most-secular, least religion-friendly campuses in the nation. But it’s not really a story of Don versus The Atheists; it’s more a story of Don versus Himself, as he struggles to find his own faith, somewhere between the church he was raised in and the secularism that surrounds him. It’s also the story of Don finding a community of friends who hold each other accountable.

I still remember how I came to read the book. Christianity Today excerpted a chapter from it, in which Don and his circle of Christian friends try to decide what to do about Reed College’s Ren Fayre, an annual festival famous for its debauchery. They ended up building a confession booth – but festival-goers who wandered into the booth were shocked when it was Don and his friends doing the confessing. You really have to read the full story.

This Sunday, I’m going to take the chance to go hear my father preach at Mt. Lebanon UMC before the new class starts.

Oh, about that movie: I haven’t seen it yet. I started watching it one night, while I had Netflix, but I got interrupted and never went back. This is ironic for two reasons. As I said, the book is one of my favorites. And the director of the movie was Steve Taylor. Remember Steve Taylor? The musician I was so thrilled to see performing live in November?

As I said, the movie puts a narrative to a book that doesn’t really have one. It also fictionalizes the story somewhat. In real life, Don Miller was a college graduate by the time he started hanging around Reed College. But the movie version of Don is a fresh-faced college student escaping from a fundamentalist upbringing.

Maybe if the class gels, and people enjoy the book, we can have a party and watch the movie together.